University rankings: Do they matter?

When students look at colleges, they search for a variety of criteria including a wide offering of majors as well as average class sizes and other factors that they feel meet their needs for a good college experience. Many incoming freshman are sometimes stumped about where they should look, so they turn to the well-known world of college rankings. Forbes, US News & World Report and Niche are a few places students can turn to find basic information about colleges and see how they fair compared to others. However, there’s just one problem with this: Most of these ranking systems have some version of bias and selectivity, which makes relying on them a little bit difficult.

To start, US News & World Report outlined the relative weight of ranking indicators that they use to rank each university on their website. For the Best Colleges of 2018, undergraduate academic reputation and faculty resources account for 20 percent. That means that factors such as peer evaluations and class size each account for 40 percent of the school’s overall rating. However, this doesn’t explain what exactly about the class size is rated. Does a school that enrolls more students per year get a better rating? If so, then how is that fair to small schools that try and keep themselves small as a contributing factor of their education style?

This year, NSU was ranked 198 on US News & World Report’s list on national universities. Niche ranked NSU as a B+ and Forbes ranked it 538 in their Top Colleges list. These three websites are just a few examples of the disparities in these ranking systems. Niche runs mainly off of student responses and specific statistics from each universities. Forbes ranks on indicators of academic success, graduation rate, student experience, debt and post-graduate success. While US News & World Report ranks on graduation and retention rates, academic reputation, faculty resources and student selectivity, to name a few indicators. Since most students aren’t going to investigate the factors that go into these rankings, they might miss out on a school that is perfect for them just because it doesn’t match the standards of these services.

Another interesting factor is the lists or categories each college or university is segregated under. NSU is classified as a Doctoral University with High Research Activity by Forbes and the Carnegie Classification. US News considers NSU a national university and on a seperate list as a private not-for-profit. The classification system of these lists is based on many different selective factors and is all up to the rankers’ interpretations.

Don Rudawsky, vice president of institutional effectiveness, explained that NSU is aware of these ranking systems and understands that all of these classifications of the university are relevant. NSU tries to be aware of all possible ranking systems of the institution and, depending on their quality, try to improve those rankings.

“The most popular and well-known [college ranking system] is US News & World Report and we track all of the different factors that go into that ranking and we try to improve in those categories,” said Rudawsky.

But should colleges be focusing on these rankings so heavily that they change to improve scores? If it’s to improve student experience and academic success, it can be argued that changing may be for the better of the university. The university has made some changes in response to improve their ranking in US News. Graduation and retention rates are a major contributing factor in US News and in response, the university has changed mission standards, scholarshipping standards and instituted first-year seminar courses to better their ranking and student experience. So far, it has been successful, as NSU has jumped 16 spots compared to last year.

College ranking systems are a major contributing factor in the college search for high school students. Even though there might be some disparities between what a college is ranked as or what they are classified as, it doesn’t mean that a university is less than another. Not every university is a perfect match for each student, even if it’s ranked No. 1. So do college rankings really matter? Maybe not, but it wouldn’t hurt to start at a college ranking website when thinking about graduate school.

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